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Salgado pleads guilty, receives life sentence

Alexander Salgado is seen here being led by two deputies at the Davison County Public Safety Center. (Chris Huber/Republic)

A Mexican man will spend the rest of his life in prison after admitting Monday to participating in the murder of a 16-year-old Mitchell girl.

Alexander Salgado, 21, pleaded guilty to seconddegree murder at the Davison County Public Safety Center as part of a plea agreement with the state. First-degree murder, felony murder and firstdegree arson charges were dropped.

Pleading guilty to second-degree murder, a Class B felony in South Dakota, means Salgado will serve the mandatory life sentence in the state penitentiary but will not be executed. He had previously pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

"The defendant was given an opportunity to reach an agreement that involved him being held accountable for his actions," South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said after Monday's proceedings. "He accepted that responsibility."

Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty for Salgado, who admitted Monday to repeatedly stabbing 16-year-old Jasmine Guevara in November. The pursuit of the death penalty for Salgado became complicated because of Salgado's status as an illegal immigrant.

Prosecutors have said a 15-year-old juvenile, whom they have identified only as "M.D.," also participated in the crime.

Part of the plea agreement involves further cooperation by Salgado, though prosecutors did not elaborate on what that cooperation entails.

"It was a part of the decisionmaking process," Jackley said.

According to a portion of court records read aloud Monday by Salgado's attorney, Mike Fink, of Bridgewater, Salgado admitted that he drove with M.D. and Guevara in Guevara's car to the "Haunt House," an unoccupied building in rural Hanson County. After leaving the car on M.D.'s instruction, Salgado returned to the sound of screaming and found M.D. repeatedly stabbing Guevara in the legs and stomach with such force that the blade of the knife bent.

Salgado, an admitted member of the Sureños gang, said he entered the back seat, stabbed Guevara in the leg and stomach with another knife he had brought and held her head while M.D. cut into Guevara's neck.

"I then reached around and pushed the knife in as far as I could," Salgado said in a signed plea agreement, though he made no statement in open court. "I just wanted it to be over."

Salgado, who had previously sported facial hair and no eyeglasses, was clean-shaven and wore glasses Monday. He appeared to show no emotion.

The knife stayed in Guevara's neck as the two put her body in the trunk, drove the car into some trees and ignited the car with the lighter fluid Guevara had purchased earlier that evening.

The fire, court documents reveal, was determined to be the cause of Guevara's death.

For months, members of the Guevara family have attended every court proceeding. Members of the family -- including mother Ada Morales, and Jasmine's twin brother, Manuel, and sister, Ada -- have generally remained stoic, although Guevara's mother has often broken into tears when the events of Nov. 10, 2009, have been recounted.

As Fink read Salgado's recounting of Guevara's murder, mother Ada shook with grief as tears streamed down her reddened face.

Before sentencing Monday, Guevara's sister Ada -- who, along with Guevara's mother Ada, wore a T-shirt bearing Jasmine's face -- read a prepared victim impact statement describing what the ordeal has done to the Guevara family.

She can't study for school anymore, she said, and her mother has quit her job because she can no longer handle the stress of the situation.

"I know my mother sits by the window, hoping she will see Jasmine come home," Ada said.

"Life has seemed to have lost meaning," Ada said. "I feel like I have a dagger in my heart that is constantly turning over and over again, making the wound bigger each time."

She remembered Jasmine as a strong, independent and caring young woman who always saw the good in people, even the very pair accused of taking her life.

"The first time I saw Alex, I told Jasmine I didn't trust her new friends," Ada said. "She told me I need not be worried. She said they were good people.

"All they needed was a friendly hand to move forward."

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